Our jubilant Philippine athletes arrived home recently after a successful stint in the Tokyo Olympics. After 97 years of waiting, the Philippines finally got its first-ever gold medal in the Olympics, triggering much jubilation all over the land. In winning the women’s 55kg weightlifting event, Hidilyn Diaz nailed down Philippine Sports’ most elusive prize, an Olympic gold. Tears of joy freely flowed, especially when the Philippine national anthem was played in the awarding ceremony. (And I’m not ashamed to admit I did.) Finally! After an eternity of misery and frustration, after that dark era of sports decadence, Philippine Sports is slowly getting back on track!
With 1 gold, 2 silvers and 1 bronze, this is the best showing ever for the Philippines in the Summer Games. Previous to this, the Philippines scored a lone silver in the 2016 Rio Games, also courtesy of Hidilyn. But before that, the country experienced a long drought which started in 1996 after the silver medal finish by Onyok Velasco in the Atlanta Olympics. It would be 20 years before we could once again see the Philippines in the medal standings.
Philippine Sports did shine bright in 2005 when the country, in hosting the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, wound up tops in the medal race. This was, of course, not surprising. After all, we were the hosts then, and were thus expected to score big in the medal standings. But after that, it has been all downhill for our athletes. Whether it be the SEA Games, the Asian Games, the Olympics or any other world or regional sporting event, our athletes would suffer through debacle after debacle after humiliating debacle.
Many of us wondered: what then happened during those years? What was going on before the 2016 Olympics that caused those years of frustration and mediocrity?
And I asked some athletes and officials. What were the main ingredients that contributed to the winning ways of our athletes in the recent Olympics? There were many reasons ventured, but 2 points stood out as the main catalysts in the changing environment in Philippine Sports.
The first and most obvious reason pointed out was the support our athletes received for training and preparation. Prior to 2016, the common lament among athletes was that there was a lack of support for them to get topnotch training here and abroad. Here at home, there was an obvious lack of quality training equipment and ideal training facilities. Today, much of these have been addressed. There are still some restrained whispers over the perceived lack of support, but the fund support for our elite athletes have increased significantly from what they used to receive prior to 2016.
Despite the fact that the government’s sports budget – thru the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) – was slashed significantly due to the COVID crisis, the fact remains that the athletes’ support and benefits have been far greater than what they used to get. This impetus from government has brought in new coaches, and revolutionized our training methodologies and systems. There was more vigor, more positive response to the clamor among athletes for more training and competition opportunities abroad. As a result, our athletes have regained the long-lost passion that have forced many of our athletes before to simply leave for greener pastures abroad. They now have better morale and motivation; and in turn, have performed better. This translated to our first-ever medal in 20 years in the Olympics in 2016, our best performance in the Asian Games in 2018, our resurrection as champions in the SEA Games in 2019, and finally, our best-ever performance and first gold medal in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Given this positive trajectory in the performance of our athletes, we expect our troops to provide more successful results in the years to come. (For more on the issue of government support for the athletes, pls read PhilStar’s: Anyare? Why It Took 97 Years for Philippines to Clinch Olympic Gold.)
Among the many significant developments are the new and modern training facilities and equipment in Tarlac. Sports science is now given more emphasis. This can be further validated with the creation of the Philippine Sports Institute (PSI). The PSI has long term objectives, not just to support our elite athletes, but to create greater opportunities for grassroots development, assuring us of a younger generation of competition-caliber athletes. This brings to the fore the importance of sports psychology, as well as strength and conditioning; setting aside the antiquated ways professed by many overstaying senior-citizen sports leaders. (Please read: Philippine Sports Institute Relaunched.)
But the support for our athletes did not solely come from government coffers. The private sector played a pivotal role as well, covering up for the shortfalls from PSC funding. It will be stressed that government support can never be enough, particularly for a 3rd-world country faced with a financially-draining COVID-19 crisis. But our private sector partners rose to the occasion, providing support that was so far better than it was before 2016. This time, there was far more enthusiasm to support our athletes and our sports associations. Why was there a lack of support prior to 2016? This lack of support previously was caused by a seeming lack of confidence in the sports leadership prior to 2016. With the non-performance of our athletes, the reports on corruption, the in-fighting, etc, big business simply did not want to get involved with Philippine Sports. In fact, even the national government withheld its support for Philippine Sports during that period.
There lies the second catalyst identified by our athletes: our country’s sports leaders. So much has been said about the dirty sports politics during the previous regime in the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC). The negative energy coming from the bickering, the politicking, the rampant corruption reports; these were major factors that caused the big drought in medals during those dark days of ignominy. With too much ass-licking, backstabbing and leaders more focused on self-preservation as opposed to providing proper support for the athletes and creating grassroots development programs for their respective sports, bad karma set in and the medal harvest dried up. As the medals dwindled and the debacles multiplied, government support continued to wane. Private sector support followed suit. Thus, the negative results could only follow. (Please read: It’s All About Power, Money and Politics.)
The change in leadership in the POC has been a breath of fresh air for Philippine Sports. Abraham Tolentino has taken over the helm of the POC. He has brought in some welcome changes, among which is the toning down of sports politics and the non-interference in sports association affairs. Still, there remain traces of the old mafia that existed before. And the damages inflicted by the mafia have not been fully resolved. (Please read: Unmasking the Philippine Sports Mafia.)
We used to be champions and world record holders in Dragon Boating, until Peping Cojuangco dismantled the Philippine Dragon Boat Federation (PDBF) and transferred control of the sport to the Philippine Canoe Kayak Federation (PCKF). Now, the new PCKDF (absorbing dragonboat into the group) cannot even buy a medal in the regional SEA Games. The PCKDF has been trying to delude its Filipino audience by boasting of world championships in the world canoe competitions, but their lackluster performance without a medal in the regional SEA Games – which we ourselves hosted – clearly shows they are nowhere near the standards of the region’s best; much more so for the world. (Please read: The Travails of Philippine Dragon Boating; and Restoring Dragon Boat.)
We used to be world class in bowling, until Peping found an excuse to replace the Philippine Bowling Congress (PBC) with a Philippine Bowling Federation (PBF) that would be beholden to him. Now, Philippine Bowling has deteriorated miserably and is nowhere to be seen in international competitions. (Please read: Philippine Bowling Cries for Justice.)
We had a healthy Table Tennis Association of the Philippines (TATAP), until Peping meddled with the association election and then formed the Philippine Table Tennis Federation (PTTF) also beholden to him. Just like in Bowling and Dragon Boating, Table Tennis in the country has since been divided and has not been able to deliver. (Please read: How Peping Annexed Philippine Table Tennis.)
In volleyball, our teams used to be regional contenders under the auspices of the Philippine Volleyball Federation (PVF). Peping replaced this with a Liga ng Volleyball sa Pilipinas Inc (LVPI), with his own lackeys manning the leadership board. When the international volleyball community (FIVB) refused to recognize the LVPI, another new league known as the Philippine National Volleyball Federation Inc (PNVFI) was recently created. We are hopeful that the newly-created PNVFI will be able to unite the warring factions within the volleyball community. (Please read: The Rape of Philippine Volleyball.)
And in weightlifting, there used to be a Philippine Weightlifting Association (PWA), until it was elbowed out by a Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas (SWP). With the creation of the SWP, the weightlifting community became divided as well.
These are just some of the issues that the former POC leadership left behind. These are core problems that have led to major divisions in Philippine Sports. Not only have these issues divided their respective sport’s communities, these issues have also affected how the leadership of other sports associations vote in the POC elections. This was sports politics at its worst. And this was rampant during Peping’s time. We hope the new POC leadership will take time to address these issues so that our communities – particularly in the sports of Dragon Boating, Bowling, Table Tennis, Volleyball, Weightlifting, etc. – can finally be united and move as one. If our athletes are focused and not bothered by petty problems in sports politics, then Philippine Sports will definitely move forward.
But by and large, Philippine Sports is slowly being nursed back to health. We are now on the road to full recovery, and it shows in the performance of our athletes. With the continuous support of government through the PSC, plus the magnanimous support of a committed private sector, and finally, a professional POC, there is much to look forward to. Finally, the future looks bright for Philippine Sports.
For a closer look, just click on the pics. Cover pic courtesy of sports.inquirer.net. Other photos courtesy of: mypope.com.ph, cnn.ph, mercury news.com, dailysabah.com, voanews.com, manilatimes.net, and tiebreakertimes.com.ph.